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Management And Training

What Is Quality Service In The Cleaning Industry?

September 19, 2010
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Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to, "What is quality service in the cleaning industry?"

A dictionary is not a lot of help.

Definitions of "excellence or superiority" are ambiguous.

Nor are the definitions of quality experts consistent.

The more one reads on the subject, the more one understands that no single definition can cover all aspects of quality for all products and services.

Since this is the case, we must use expert guidance to arrive at a definition we can use for the cleaning profession, one that applies to what we do as service providers.

Let''s begin with two of the most familiar names in the field.

Phillip Crosby (1926-2001) wrote his first quality-focused book in 1979 titled, "Quality Is Free."

He wrote simply that quality comes from "doing it right the first time."

Doing something over to make it right is costly in many ways.

Crosby defined quality as "conformance to requirements" and maintained that only a system focused on defect prevention would produce quality.

Therefore, Crosby noted, the only acceptable performance standard is one of zero defects.

Nonconforming levels of service should not exist.

When they do, the cost to bring them into conformance with the standard — the requirements — is the cost of quality.

His contention was that quality is free and only costs when it is not there in the first effort.

Joseph M. Juran (1904-2008) was arguably one of the most influential quality management professionals.

He is noted for placing the responsibility for quality directly into the hands of management, a concept that caught on in Japan and caused a revolution in their thinking and products.

Unfortunately, the United States did not respond as quickly or as fully and even today we are seeing the fallout from that neglect.

Juran defined quality in several ways:

  • Fitness for use
  • Conformance to manufacturers'' specifications
  • Conformance to what the customer requires
  • Characteristics learned from analyzing the customer''s requirements.

Our Definition

Working with these thoughts in mind, we can develop a quality definition for the cleaning industry, but we must start by defining several other related items.

First, we begin with customer requirements by asking, "What do our customers expect from us?"

My almost 40 years'' experience in the industry shows two things are expected and, therefore, required if service is to be satisfactory.

One, it is required that the facility, carpet, floor or whatever it is we are supposed to be cleaning is actually clean when we finish our work.

Clean means free from blemishes or having all foreign, unwanted substances removed.

It is assumed that we are speaking of surface or object cleaning and not air or water cleaning, which can be done, but is not the usual request made to a cleaning service provider.

Two, the inclusion of this is the result of an industry tendency we will address later on, the customer expects to be freed from the responsibility of cleaning management.

This harmonizes with the old slogan, "Take the bus and leave the driving to us."

No one pays for a bus trip expecting to help the driver navigate or load luggage and certainly they don''t expect to drive the vehicle.

A quality cleaning definition might well be this: Quality cleaning is that which provides error-free performance that meets the customer''s requirements.

Since that is still a fairly general statement, let''s break it down for a deeper understanding of its components.

There are only two reasons cleaning fails, thereby providing less than quality work.

One is that the work was not done at all — there is visible dust on a surface and the cleaner failed to remove it; the waste basket was not emptied; and the restroom mirrors were left spotted.

Two, the work was attempted, but not completed — the dusting was started, but only a portion of the surface was cleaned; the waste basket is empty, but the liner is dirty; and the mirrors are streaked.

Error-free performance means that the dust was seen and completely removed, the waste basket was dumped and the dirty liner seen and replaced and that the mirrors were cleaned fully, leaving no streaks.

It means that all the blemishes or unwanted substances on objects or surfaces in the facility were identified and removed in harmony with the best methods available to save time, safeguard human health and safety, preserve the surfaces and enhance the appearance of the property.

And, that this was done is evidenced by the absence of those indicators, such as dust, litter, streaks and spots, grit, etc., that show the need for cleaning to start with.

Providing this blemish identification and removal is the job of the actual onsite worker or custodian.

However, quality-focused management must select and provide the right tools and train workers in the correct techniques for this to be possible.

Juran was correct in starting quality at the top of the organization.

Meeting the customer''s requirements is the modifying phrase in the definition because all customers will not have the same requirements even in all areas of the same building.

While health-focused — termed hygienic or microbial reduction — cleaning may be required in a medical exam room, it is hardly of any concern in a utility or mailroom or on the loading dock.

The service provider must determine from an analysis of the property and discussion with the client what is necessary and where.

This prevents the familiar, but wasteful, requirement to clean all carpets in all areas on such-and-such a schedule.

Or, fruitless attempts to "disinfect the building."

This phrase still leaves a lot of room for misunderstanding.

Let''s use an example to better grasp what is intended.

Suppose that, as a pond owner, you wish to purchase a water pump to move a certain amount of water to a height of so many feet in a certain amount of time.

We say that this is your requirement or expectation for the pump.

If the pump you buy will do what you want it to — for a long time without breaking down — and is available at a reasonable price, you will likely think that it is a quality item.

To build a pump that will do what you want it to do, however, demands a whole other set of requirements, these from the manufacturer.

They will engineer the features of the pump, choosing a motor size, a drive shaft size and impellor design.

The casting and its machining will be carefully specified by dimensional drawings and even the paint type and color determined beforehand.

It should be obvious that the manufacturer will not go to you, the customer, to ask what size electric motor they should use, what the impellor design should be and what diameter drive shaft should be selected.

Determining those features is the pump manufacturer''s responsibility.

Your requirement is to move water; their requirements are of a different nature.

In actual practice, you will buy a pump that meets your needs by selecting one from many already designed and built by the manufacturer.

They know what is required to do what you wish.

Thus, there are requirements of different sorts that must be complied with or conformed to for quality to be apparent.

As the cleaning service provider, you must know yours because the second requirement or expectation of our customers is that they "outsource" to become free from cleaning management concerns.

The cleaning industry has a long history of allowing, indeed expecting to be, nursemaided by its customers.

The client is often asked to provide so-called cleaning specifications that are nothing more than a list of cleaning tasks to do at certain times.

Evidently, we don''t believe we are proficient enough to prepare adequate task lists and schedule the necessary work ourselves and many clients readily agree with us.

So, we let a pond owner engineer the pump.

Then, we leave logbooks for the secretaries, who we evidently believe know more about our onsite operations than we do, to fill out with suggestions and complaints.

Some of us boast of rapid response, quickly sending someone to the building to redo missed or incomplete work when a complaint is phoned in.

Others feel it is a good practice to leave treated cloths where clients can easily find them so they can do the dusting themselves when we miss it, as we expect to do much of the time.

Strangely, few seem to see this "handholding" by clients as anything detrimental.

Nevertheless, as long as the client is needed to help us manage the cleaning, whether by calling in complaints or filling in a monthly quality checklist, we are failing to relieve them of the cleaning management responsibility and so are providing poor quality service — service that does not conform to the requirements.

This is greatly misunderstood and very often our customers expand their management by adding on unexpected services they want, asking for insane services, such as building disinfection, specifying certain products or equipment that are wrong for the task or asking the cleaning company to carry unnecessary insurances or agree to ridiculous contract provisions.

Every time the cleaner gives in to such foolish direction from those lacking professional expertise, treating them as if they really know what they are doing, we abdicate the cleaning management to these ones, in essence, providing limited management and poor service, by definition.

Why Do We Permit This?

The reason we allow this "babysitting" of the industry by bank officers, secretaries, clerks and office and property managers is somewhat simple and embarrassing to talk about, but we''ll do it for the sake of promoting real change in the field.

There are few industries in the world with the self-esteem challenges we face.

Cleaning is viewed by the vast majority of people as something anyone can do simply by showing up on the job.

When the cleaning fails due either to skipping or incomplete effort, it is embarrassing.

How can you mess up something so simple?

Additionally, due to this widely held viewpoint, the industry has no established standards for quality surface cleaning.

No one believes that anything detailed and exact is needed to do such simple work.

Would you write a standard for burning trash or raking leaves into a pile or wiping dust off a shelf? Of course not.

So, cleaners do not seek to assert themselves in contractual settings.

They are possibly ashamed of the poor and long-standing industry record of mediocre service and obvious oversights.

They have worked for years on the premise that low price supersedes fair price and adequate service is preferable to excellent service.

They have no standard to achieve to establish quality and believe in "doing what the customer wants" without exerting much effort to define what that is.

In short, we operate as if we are the kid doing his first lawn mowing job.

The professional lawn service guy has a wide-cut machine, sharp blades and an awareness of the time and fuel costs to do the job in order to price it right.

The kid has a borrowed mower and the hope of earning a few bucks to spend on a video game.

Who of the two would ask the customer for help in doing the job efficiently and economically?

If you answered "the pro," you are most likely a cleaning contractor.

Is It Changing?

To offset this reputation for being responsible for seemingly simple-minded tasks, the industry has now moved toward projecting an image of itself as providing a greater, more essential and complicated service, that of "protector of public health."

The cleaning industry will save the world from sickness and disease.

When a major epidemic breaks out, we will be the first line of defense, safeguarding the masses.

We will not only remove visible soils, but we will eliminate all harmful microorganisms from the indoor environment, thereby making the world a safer, better place.

And all will stand in awe of the cleaning industry as its self-esteem and sense of worth reaches unheard of heights in the service community.

Exactly how the cleaning company representative will convince the client that this proposed assault on the invisible realm has been successful when the customer counters are covered with dust and the floors are streaked remains unresolved, but this seems to be the direction things are taking.

The fact that quality cleaning, as defined above, is not all that common must indicate something.

Before tackling the elimination of microorganisms we cannot see, we must concentrate on providing quality, basic cleaning services for what we can see.

Quality standards must be established and used to provide a target for our efforts and we need to change our approach to our clients.

If we don''t believe we are the cleaning experts capable of providing quality cleaning, it will be impossible to convince them.


Lynn E. Krafft is an ICAN/ATEX editor and a cleaning service operator. Mr. Krafft is also a supporting member of ISSA and the Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI).

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